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1106: Abingdon Episcopal, White Marsh, Virginia, USA
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Abingdon Episcopal, White Marsh, Virginia, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Corpus Cani.
The church: Abingdon Episcopal, White Marsh, Virginia, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: A typical red brick colonial Prot box, restored with sensitivity and clearly tended with care. A large venetian window looks down on a huge pulpit and reader's desk and a teeny weeny altar. All the features of the period are here – box pews, a delightful pipe organ, galleries, plain glass, and so on. The spacious churchyard holds the remains of the great and good of colonial Virginia.
The church: Numerous ministries and outreaches, including Children of Chernobyl, an international program that provides a summertime health retreat in the homes of local families for children who were in the path of radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster.
The neighborhood: White Marsh is a small, unincorporated village in Gloucester County, not far from colonial Williamsburg. Gloucester is on what is known as Virginia's Middle Peninsula, on the west side of Chesapeake. The church is just off the George Washington Highway and doesn't really have a neighborhood. It was apparently a plantation church and so it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The other buildings on the highway are mainly commercial, light industrial, or other churches. The congregation is drawn from a mixture of small older houses and trailers, and large, expensive and envy-causing waterside homes.
The cast: The Rev. Dr E. Allen Coffey, rector.
What was the name of the service?
Choral Evensong.

How full was the building?
Pretty full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smile and a brief greeting as the service sheet was handed out.

Was your pew comfortable?
A nice, squidgy cushion, but limited leg room. I have something of an irrational prejudice against box pews, but this was a better example than most.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, as everyone was listening to an exquisite organ voluntary.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"O Lord, open Thou our lips. And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A card with the service printed in full, and a hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir.

Did anything distract you?
The reredos contained a partial quote from the Te Deum: "We praise Thee, O God:" The colon at the end of the quote was begging to be chiseled off. I know it's silly, but it drove me to distraction.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very formal 1662 Prayer Book stuff.

Abingdon Episcopal, White Marsh, Virginia, USA

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing the hymn, "Come ye faithful," to St Kevin, a tune I discovered on my last US trip, which has become one of my favorites.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Traffic noise from the highway during the quiet bits. Don't know where they were heading, but there were lots of people passing through.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was taken in hand by a friendly local.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee at the church, but a splendid reception at the palatial home of some local grandee. Hot food and free booze. What could be better?

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The church has a fantastic music program, and that alone would make it worth becoming a regular. The added bonus of a warm and friendly congregation boosts the score, but I suspect the Sunday worship would be a little too low for Corpus' spiky tastes.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
BCP Evensong always makes me glad to be a Christian. When it's sung as well as this, it can only lift the soul.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
St Kevin, naturally.
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